Dyson Heppell delivered a very pointed message to Essendon’s critics after the Bombers pulled off a miraculous win over the Hawks.
The Bombers lost five players to illness before the opening bounce and most judges were expecting them to slump to a seventh defeat from eight games in what’s been a horror season so far.
But Heppell and Co. held firm to pull off what he described as an “unbelievable” 16.12 (108) to 11.15 (81) victory.
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Essendon have been hammered from all corners and last month came under fire for smiling with opponents after a heavy loss to Fremantle — but Heppell had a blunt response to anyone who questioned his team’s desire to win.
“’Truck’ (coach Ben Rutten) gave me a buzz a bit after lunch and said, ‘We’re on a bit shaky waters this arvo and a few boys have gone down’,” Heppell told Channel 7 in a post-game interview.
“But the guys that came in, just their energy and attitude and willingness to play their role. The guys nearly came in with a bit of a — well, you talk about smiling, anyone can jam it, I tell you what, for telling us to stop smiling.
“We came in and there was just a great vibe in the rooms and produced a fantastic performance.
“You come into a game with a bit of a sense and a feeling and I’m just so proud of the attitude the boys have been sticking to over this whole period. There’s been a lot of outside noise, but within the four walls it’s just been an unbelievable environment for the circumstance we’ve been in.
“To show up, with (five) blokes out late with illness – it’s just an unbelievable effort.”
Not only did the Bombers need to overcome a late reshuffle, but they trailed Hawthorn at every change, staging a remarkable final quarter fightback to win by 27 points.
Two Rising Star hopesfuls led their sides from the front, but it was Nic Martin that ultimately bettered Jai Newcombe’s career-best performance.
Trailing by 15 at the final change, the Bombers needed the first goal of the last quarter and they got it courtesy of a Kaine Baldwin set shot to cut the margin to 10-points.
Martin, who might be Essendon’s most impressive player, came alive, kicking a snap goal before setting up Peter Wright for his fourth major.
Marvel Stadium was sent into raptures as Essendon fans thought Mason Redman had given the Bombers the lead, but Wright had slung Sam Frost to the ground on the goal line to cost the Dons the six-points.
A long ball to the top of Essendon’s goalsquare minutes later fell to the feet of Zach Merrett, who couldn’t bend down to pick it up, but in a fluke the ball ricocheted off his shin for a goal and the Bombers led.